Project Management Institute

Project planning

frequently asked questions -- part 2


by Neal Whitten, PMP, Contributing Editor

LAST MONTH’S COLUMN (Part 1) addressed frequently asked questions about project planning. This column continues the focus on and the questions most frequently asked about effective project planning.

Q. What is the difference between a top-down plan and a bottom-up plan? A top-down plan typically is developed by one person (or a small subset of people on a project). It suggests a set of high-level schedules, costs, and risks. A top-down plan should not be conveyed to management or the client as a committed plan, only as a targeted plan. Top-down planning is an essential business exercise that helps stakeholders get a better feel for the size, cost, and complexity of a project. A bottom-up plan is developed with the participation of virtually all members of a project. All activities are identified (not just the significant ones), along with the activity owners, activity durations, the dependencies among activities, and other information. A bottom-up plan represents the plan that should be committed and is considered reasonable risk.

Progress on a project cannot be measured unless a plan has been established against which it can be measured.

Q. Contracts are often based on top-down planning. Are you saying that these plans should not be committed? It is not realistic to wait for the critical mass of project members to be onboard before estimating plan commitments for a contract. With contracts, it is important that the final proposal be carefully reviewed before it is submitted. It also should include sufficient contingency to help address the unknown.

Q. Who should approve the project plan? All stakeholders. Project members approve their own portions of the project plan as well as those portions that affect their domain of responsibility. For the project manager, this translates to having approval rights on the entire plan. Resource managers approve those portions that affect their resource commitments. The product manager, sponsor, and/or client approve the major aspects of the plan such as scope, schedules, costs, and quality.


Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group (, is a speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor, and author. His books include The Enter Prize Organization: Organizing Software Projects for Accountability and Success, published by PMI. Comments on this column should be directed to

Q. Who has the final say on the approval of the project plan? The person in management who has the most at stake based on the successful outcome of the project has the final approval from within the project’s organization. The project manager works on behalf of this person, often called the product manager or sponsor. However, ultimately, the client has the final approval if the project is directed toward a specific client.

Q. When should a project plan be replanned? Routine changes to the project plan will occur as a result of the change control process chosen to address changes in scope. As a result, in some cases, it is possible that significant portions of the project plan must be replanned. However, other events could trigger replanning a project. Examples include if the project schedules/costs are continuing to erode and the original plan is no longer achievable, or if there are changes in the project’s ground rules that could affect the plan (for example, availability of resources and/or shifting priority of project). Consideration also should be given to replanning the project at the end of major phases. When a project is first planned, many assumptions are made. As the project achieves its major phases or milestones, better data is available from which to plan.

As last thoughts for you from these frequently asked questions, I have three: (1) Learn from the wisdom, “We never find time to do it right, but always find time to do it over.” Performing thoughtful planning the first time is always the best business choice. (2) The best project plan is aggressive, but achievable. Aggressive to maintain a healthy rate of productivity and competitiveness; achievable so that all stakeholders win. (3) Project planning is about getting in control; project tracking is about staying in control. The progress on a project cannot be measured unless a reasonable plan first has been established against which progress can be measured. ■

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

October 2000 PM Network



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